December 2015 marks the three-year anniversary of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s return to office. During his tenure, Japan has redefined its national security strategy through a series of legal and political reforms, reshaping the postwar system of pacifism. From executive actions to legislative authorization, Japan’s process for conducting national security policy, as well as its options for exercising force, have been transformed. These changes have occurred concurrently with updating the US-Japan alliance through revisions of the US-Japan Security Cooperation Guidelines.
These reforms are both necessary and beneficial for strengthening Japan’s deterrence of potential threats, as well as updating its strategic perspective. They are also necessary for Japan to restore its ability to use force responsibly. As Japan implements these reforms, consideration should be given to systemic changes that strengthen checks and balances on decisions to utilize military force in collective self-defense and collective security operations. This article examines what has been accomplished, why, the costs and benefits, and the important reforms Japan must consider next.